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Barry Yazid Owens, barber and mentor of many, dies at 53

Barry Yazid Owens, a COTA member turned mentor,

Barry Yazid Owens, a COTA member turned mentor, volunteered with other members to teach children how to build a pavillion at the Wyandanch Community Youth Center as part of a summer program helping kids learn skills, Aug. 17, 2017. Owens died on April 21, 2020 from COVID-19 complications. Credit: Newsday/Megan Miller

They called him brother, friend and mentor.  

Whether it was a ride home, a job at his Bay Shore barbershop or just an ear to listen, Barry Jerome “Yazid” Owens Sr. of Brentwood was always looking to help others.  

Owens died April 21 of complications from COVID-19. He was 53.

Owens was athletic growing up, playing basketball and lacrosse, said his brother Kenny McLemore, 54, of Brentwood.  

But in the years after he graduated from Brentwood High School, Owens began spending time in the streets and was soon selling drugs, his brother said. In 1996 he pleaded guilty to assault and manslaughter in the shooting death of a man in Bay Shore and was given a 15- to 30-year sentence. He served nearly 20 years in prison before being released on parole in 2014.  

“I’m not proud of it and I never will be,” Owens told a Newsday videographer in 2017.

But after being released, Owens was determined to find work and change his life.  

“For me I had my mind made up that I wasn’t going back to the streets,” he told Newsday.  Owens also sought to reconnect with his children. His daughter Kyeshia Owens, 27, of New Haven, Connecticut, said that in the last few years, the pair grew close. Her father was a “great protector” who doted on her and his grandson, she said.  

His son Barry Jerome Owens Jr., 31, of Central Islip remembers how before Owens went away to prison he taught him how to do math and to make bunny ears with his shoelaces when he wanted to tie them.  

“Still, when I tie them, I always think of the bunny ears,” he said.  

He remembered fondly a trip together to Las Vegas last fall. Afraid of flying, Owens Jr. had never been on an airplane.  

“The only reason why I was comfortable getting on that flight was because he was beside me,” he said.  

After prison, Owens began working for a fencing company and then took a construction class. That was where he met Leonard Burwell, 53, of Bay Shore, who told him about the Council of Thought and Action (COTA), a Suffolk County police initiative in Wyandanch.

Owens credited the support and networking group and the group’s leader, Suffolk County Police Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis, with keeping him on track. Owens would go on to become a respected “brother” to the members, a beloved group facilitator and one of its proudest success stories.

“I always say it’s not what you did in your worst moment that defines you, it’s what you do after,” Mention-Lewis said.  

In 2016 while working for a solar company, Owens fell 30 feet off a roof while installing solar panels, shattering bones throughout one side of his body. Just days after getting out of the hospital, Owens showed up to a holiday party COTA members were throwing for a day care center. Still in a wheelchair, he helped hang ornaments on a tree.  

Months later, walking with a cane and not able to work, he drove COTA members back and forth to jobs.  

“It gives me something to do,” he told Newsday.  “Just being able to give back makes me feel good as well.” He would often use the rides to counsel the members and “get them to think a different way.”

“He did everything he could to mentor those who struggled like he did,” his brother said.  

A jokester, Owens “wanted everybody to have a good day,” his friend Burwell said. When he wasn’t working, he would watch action movies, play poker or root for his favorite teams, the Jets, Mets and Knicks.  

Owens would frequently go to the courthouse in Central Islip to offer mentorship to young men who had run afoul of the law, helping them find their way back to school or a job. One of those young men was Nasheem Heath, 18, of Brentwood. Heath had just gotten out of jail on a robbery charge and Owens offered to drive him to COTA meetings.  

“He always made sure I was staying out of trouble,” Heath said.  

No longer able to do physical work, Owens set out to earn a degree in barbering. He started out giving free haircuts to homeless men in shelters. Then in 2018, he opened up his own barbershop, Neighborhood Cuts, in Bay Shore.  

“The barbershop was everything to him,” said his son. He would hold back-to-school events with a barbecue and bouncy house outside, giving away notebooks and pencils, he said.  

Owens fostered Heath’s interest in barbering and gave him a job sweeping the floor at his shop. “He had a big impact on me,” Heath said. He said that because of Owens’ encouragement, he plans to get his barber’s license.  

“That’s the legacy of Yazid,” Mention-Lewis said. “There’s a whole lot of people who are doing well and giving to others because Yazid gave to them.”

A list of survivors was not available. Owens is buried in Pinelawn Cemetery.  

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